Before I start this post, I’ll be honest, I haven’t read the book Wheat Belly (written by William Davis, MD). To be fair I did try to read it, I just couldn’t get into it because it angered me too much.  And, this post is not a review of the book,instead it’s really an insight on my thoughts about the entire “wheat-free” craze.I suppose Dr. Davis is the scapegoat here, but I’m just trying to give my honest opinion on the idea that “wheat free is the way to be!”

Let’s go back a few months ago….. after talking to several people who purchased the book in hopes of “losing their belly fat” and who months later felt dissapointed because their “belly fat was still there”, I figured the book warranted a good blog post. Having been on a 90% wheat-free diet myself for the past 4 years (low FODMAPs), I can assure you that the size of my own belly has not changed.  In fact,I put on 10 pounds after giving up wheat,because with an intolerance to foods (such as wheat, and many others for me) many people do not absorb healthful nutrients, thus they lose weight.  Once I eliminated my intolerances (wheat being only one of them) I started absorbing more nutrients, feeling energized, and putting on weight.  It was a very good thing.

I digress, my interest in this book really began when a friend of mine started reading the book in hopes of (as I said above) losing her “belly fat”.  She explained to me how the book said something along the lines of;

“Your blood sugar will actually go higher from eating two pieces of wheat bread than having six teaspoons of sugar, the higher your blood sugars go, the more fat-storing hormone you are going to send out.” ( Source)

My interest was peaked.  I did some research and found out that was absolutely true.   A few weeks later I tried reading the book but soon gave up (although I used it as a resource when writing this post).  Then, I was sent this article, and posted it on Twitter to hear what people had to say.  I got a great response from @Fache79 (check out her blog!), a soon-to-be-dietitian in Canada, who writes for the Dietitians of Canada’s Student Network.I read every word of the great book review she sent me.  As detective and “Dietitian-in-Training” Marianne (and her Registered Dietitian colleagues who also helped write the review) found out there was a lot to learn when reading between the lines of Davis’ book.  Here is a snapshot of what Marianne and her colleagues had to say (including some of my opinions on the topic).

1)  The statement that seems to stick out in most people’s minds is the one about how wheat has a higher glycemic index than sugar (sucrose).  Having a higher glycemic index means that wheat will spike your blood sugar faster than sugar. And yes, insulin is the “fat storing hormone”.  It might seem surprising that wheat bread (and even whole wheat bread) has a high glycemic index (70 or above is considered high), and that it’s actually higher than sugar.Source: NutritionData.com

Glycemic Indexes are on the left, and the Glycemic Loads are on the far right

But when you look at wheat bread’s glycemic load (a more accurate depiction of the effect a food will have on your blood sugar and insulin levels, because it takes into account the actual amount of carbohydrate consumed) you will see it is low (10 or below is considered low).  The real issue I have is that so many other foods have much higher glycemic loads ; Baked Potatoes, White Rice, Brown Rice, and even Yogurt!

Source: iStockPhoto

2)  The author of this book provides a lot of evidence that wheat is a villain, but as Marianne pointed out in her review of the book (and as I noted as I perused Davis’ pages of references)many of the studies are repeated throughout his long list of references, making it look like he has more evidence than he really does.  And of course, more importantly, a lot of the information he provides as “evidence” of his claims are simply not true when you actually look at the research articles (which is something that Marianne did), or is taken from poorly done research (much of which is Davis’ own research. Fancy that).

3)  If you look at the sources provided in the reference section of Davis’ book, you might notice that while he seems to be putting all the blame on wheat, the bulk of his research was done on the positive effect of “carbohydrate-controlled diets”, in other words “low-carb diets”.  Yes, low-carb diets can really work for some people, but does “low-carb” mean “wheat-free”?  NO!These are WHEAT FREE donuts (pretend).  Is this guy saying I can eat these instead of the original wheat-loaded donuts, and I’ll get rid of my belly?!  Nice!

HA, no wonder this book is so popular

I think Dr. Davis (the author) said it best when he said;

“Wheat belly is not a diet, it’s an articulation of an explosive and large problem in the American style of eating.”( Source)

I do agree with this statement.  Americans are eating too many carbohydrates, from all sources, and yes, a majority of those sources do seem to be from wheat. If we could just eat a normal amount of carbohydrates and wheat/grain products, most of us would be ok (meet with a local dietitian to find out a good personal recommendation).  If we could reduce our sugars and grains a bit (ok, for most people, a lot!), eat more fruits, vegetables, and legumes, get some quality protein at each meal, most of us wouldn’t have a problem.  But to blame wheat and gluten for our issues is just crazy.  Have you seen the sugar content in some of the most popular gluten and wheat free foods these days?  Check it out, they are often higher than their original, wheat-loaded versions.  If you read the book keep in mind that any weight loss from going “Wheat-Free” (or gluten-free) when it’s not medically necessary is most likely the result of being more mindful about what you eat, and having to pass on all the pre-meal restaurant bread sticks, chips, and italian bread and butter.And, per Marianne, Davis was right in suggesting a less refined and processed diet, and a more whole foods-based diet. So, if that’s the moral of the story. I agree, AMEN!

I’m open to the idea that my views may be changed in the future.  Absolutely.  If more evidence comes out that says wheat and gluten are as bad as is indicated in this book (for everyone, not just those who medically need to avoid them), I can accept that.  I don’t know everything.  Until then, I don’t feel bad serving whole grain breads to my husband, or recommending them to my clients.